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How to eliminate tyrants and empower citizens?

I considered 4 of these bills, passed or reported, as forming a system by which every fibre would be eradicated of antient or future aristocracy; and a foundation laid for a government truly republican.
The repeal of the laws of entail …
The abolition of primogeniture…
The restoration of the rights of conscience …
the bill for a general education…
To these too might be added, as a further security, the introduction of the trial by jury
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders despise privileged and guaranteed status.
We have dealt with these provisions individually in the preceding posts. Here, Jefferson summarized them and explains their importantance. They will:
1. Eliminate any past or future aristocracy (some more equal than others)
2. Found a “truly republican” government (where all are created equal)

The heart of these four provisions:
1. Entail repealed – prescribing by law that property will be kept in just a few hands
2. Primogeniture abolished – an entire estate having to pass to the first born
3. Rights of conscience guaranteed – dis-establishing the official, tax-supported church
4. General education provided – publicly funded for all boys and girls (though not slave children)

He recommended a fifth protection, trial by jury, taking some legal authority away from the courts and entrusting it to juries of one’s peers.

“I don’t believe anyone left the room once you started talking because everyone
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North Carolina Agribusiness Council
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Can blacks and whites live together peaceably in America?

Nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them. It is still in our power to direct the process of emancipation and deportation peaceably and in such slow degree as that the evil will wear off insensibly, and their place be pari passu [on equal footing] filled up by free white laborers. If on the contrary it is left to force itself on, human nature must shudder at the prospect held up.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders who won’t solve problem make matters worse.
While Jefferson believed slaves were destined to be free, they were equally destined not to be free in America. In Notes on Virginia in 1782, he wrote, “Deep-rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained …,” (among other things) would keep the races from living together in harmony. Attempting to do so would create political divisions and “convulsions, which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race.” Jefferson believed a gradual repatriation to Africa was in the best interest of both races.

He was prophetic in writing, “human nature must shudder at the prospect” of failure to do so. A national convulsion did come 40 years later with the Civil War.

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The slaves must be freed, or else!

The principles of the amendment [for emancipation of slaves] however were agreed on, that is to say, the freedom of all born after a certain day, and deportation at a proper age. But it was found that the public mind would not yet bear the proposition, nor will it bear it even at this day. Yet the day is not distant when it must bear and adopt it, or worse will follow. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Sometimes, all the leading in the world isn’t enough.
Jefferson hoped his late 1770s revisions of the Virginia’s laws would also provide for eventual freedom for slaves, but it was not to be. Not only was public opinion opposed, it was still opposed more than 40 years later when he wrote this.

Unyielding public opinion would have to yield “or worse will follow.” Affirming the certainty “that these people [slaves] are to be free,” Jefferson also affirmed the great universal sentiment of the Declaration of Independence, that all men have the divine right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Public opinion never did yield. In another 40 years, the Civil War was fought to accomplish what he had hoped to do peaceably 80 years before.

The next post will deal with deportation of freed slaves.

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What is the best way to educate everyone?

… concerning the College of Wm. & Mary … [I] prepared three bills for the Revisal, proposing three distinct grades of education, reaching all classes. 1. Elementary schools for all children generally, rich and poor. 2. Colleges for a middle degree of instruction, calculated for the common purposes of life, and such as would be desirable for all who were in easy circumstances. And 3d. an ultimate grade for teaching the sciences generally, & in their highest degree.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders will provide for an educated citizenry.
Jefferson proposed three education bills. The first of those three is described above, with three levels of instruction:

  1. Elementary schools for all children, regardless of circumstances – The curriculum would be what every person needed to know, how to read and write and perform basic arithmetic. These would be established in each county, within walking distance for each child.
  2. Colleges for advanced education and learning a specific skill – These would benefit those with the drive to get ahead and please those of financial means, for whom further education was a given. Colleges would be in 24 districts throughout the state, all within one day’s horse ride for the residents of the district.
  3. A university where the highest levels of the sciences would be taught

“All children generally” did not include slave children. It did include poor children and girls, both radical provisions in a time when only white males born to parents of means were educated.

More than 15 years passed before the Virginia legislature enacted only the elementary school provision. They then gutted its effectiveness by leaving it up to each county when to establish their own school. Jefferson’s vision was to establish them all at once.

“… what a magnificent and delightful job you did as President Thomas Jefferson …”
Chair, Substantive Program
11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judicial Conference
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Have you given people enough time?

In the meanwhile the public opinion was ripening by time, by reflection, and by the example of Pensylva, where labor on the highways had been tried without approbation [approval] from 1786 to 89. & had been followed by their Penitentiary system on the principle of confinement and labor, which was proceeding auspiciously. In 1796. our legislature resumed the subject and passed the law for amending the Penal laws of the commonwealth.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders give people enough time.
This excerpt is on the same subject used in the previous post but illustrates a different point.

In the late 1770s, Virginia had decided on hard labor on public projects as appropriate punishment for crimes that had previously been punished by death. Pennsylvania had a similar plan, and it seemed reasonable. Later evidence from that state proved otherwise, that public demeaning did not rehabilitate criminals but made them worse. Virginia was likely experiencing the same result.

Virginian’s support for hard labor in public probably had been enthusiastic. Doing away with hard labor may have faced their opposition. Giving convicts labor to perform within a prison complex, perhaps seen as not harsh enough, might have lacked public support, as well.

Virginia’s legislature would not change the law, because they lacked public support to do so. Pennsylvania’s example, however, was now proving that hard-labor-in-public did not work but labor- within-prison did.

Given 10-15 years, public opinion was changing. Leaders could now act with public support rather than opposition. Thus, Virginia’s laws were changed in 1796 to more humane treatment.

Jefferson later wrote concerning another matter, “Great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities.” This example is one of waiting for public opinion to ripen in support of something new, rather than forcing it upon them before they were ready.

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Demeaning prisoners is not rehabilitative.

With respect of the plan of a Prison …I had heard of a benevolent society in England which had been indulged by the government in an experiment of the effect of labor in _solitary confinement_ on some of their criminals, which experiment had succeeded beyond expectation …This I sent to the Directors instead of a plan of a common prison, in the hope that it would suggest the idea of labor in solitary confinement instead of that on the public works … In 1796 … They adopted solitary, instead of public labor, established a gradation in the duration of the confinement … Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Compassionate leaders seek rehabilitation in punishment.
Jefferson’s original revision of the criminal code reduced the number of capital offenses from several dozen to just two, for murder and treason. Lesser crimes received hard labor, often on public works building roads and canals. Experience, though, showed that prisoners being “exhibited as a public spectacle, with shaved heads and mean clothing, working on the high roads” didn’t rehabilitate. Instead, it produced the “most desperate & hardened depravity of morals and character.” It made men worse, not better.

Borrowing from successful experiments in Europe, he proposed “labor in … solitary confinement.” (This must mean labor within the prison complex rather than in public, and not solitary confinement as we understand it today.) Virginia built a “Penitentiary” instead of “a common prison” with this idea in mind. Fifteen years later, Virginia abandoned hard public labor for prisoners.

The last line in this excerpt implies a gradual improvement in an inmate’s work status through the course of his confinement.

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and good judgment in inviting William Clark of the famous Lewis and Clark team…”
Wisconsin Society of Land Surveyors
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Is Jesus Christ the author of our holy religion?

The bill for establishing religious freedom … was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.” The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it’s protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan [Muslim], the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Faithful leaders do not fear dissenting opinions.
The high water mark of Jefferson’s work revising Virginia’s statutes was his bill for religion freedom. Drafted by him and shephered through the legislature in 1786 by James Madison, it ended Anglican status as the “official” tax-supported church.

Virginia was settled by Englishmen loyal to the king and the Church of England. Several pages before this excerpt are these words, “ … the grant to Sr. Walter Raleigh contained an express Proviso that their laws “should not be against the true Christian faith, now professed in the church of England.” “ The state established Anglican parishes and provided support for their ministers.

Although 100% Anglican at its founding, by the time of the Revolution, “dissenters” (i.e. non-Anglicans, primarily Presbyterians) formed the majority of Virginia’s faith community. Even so, all residents were still taxed to support the Anglican cause.

In dis-establishing the official church, some sought to preserve the idea that religious freedom was extended to all Christians, rather than just those of Anglican persuasion. “A great majority” rejected that restriction, proof that the bill’s protection extended to all. Each person was free to worship however he saw fit, or not worship any deity at all, with neither help nor hindrance by the state.

Section 1 of this bill states “Almighty God hath created the mind free … [and did not force acceptance on his creation.]” If God did not require religious obedience, neither should the state.

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Keep nibbling away at evil institutions

The first establishment in Virginia which became permanent was made in 1607. I have found no mention of negroes in the colony until about 1650. The first brought here as slaves were by a Dutch ship; after which the English commenced the trade and continued it until the revolutionary war. That suspended, ipso facto, their further importation for the present, and the business of the war pressing constantly on the legislature, this subject was not acted on finally until the year 78. when I brought in a bill to prevent their further importation. This passed without opposition, and stopped the increase of the evil by importation, leaving to future efforts its final eradication.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Determined leaders remain committed to their causes over time.
In 1769, Jefferson had been on the losing side of a slavery-limiting issue in the Virginia House of Burgesses. In 1778, he was the successful author of a bill to prohibit further importation of slaves into the state. He recognized this was not the ultimate goal but rather a step in that direction.

“One of our municipal officials even remarked he liked Thomas Jefferson
better than David Broder,
the Pultizer Prize-winning columnist who spoke the following day.”

Illinois Municipal League
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What kind of aristocracy would you prefer?

I obtained leave to bring in a bill declaring tenants in tail to hold their lands in fee simple … To annul this privilege, and instead of an aristocracy of wealth, of more harm and danger, than benefit, to society, to make an opening for the aristocracy of virtue and talent, which nature has wisely provided for the direction of the interests of society, & scattered with equal hand through all it’s conditions, was deemed essential to a well ordered republic. To effect it no violence was necessary, no deprivation of natural right, but rather an enlargement of it by a repeal of the law.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Democratic leaders seek equality of opportunity.
Colonial law in Virginia provided for lands to be inherited only by the eldest male child. Privileged individuals had long before obtained large grants of land from the king. The law allowed families to keep those vast holdings in very few hands as the generations passed. Those few hands achieved even greater wealth and power, eventually controlling much of the Colony. This resulted in “an aristocracy of wealth, of more harm and danger, than benefit, to society …”

Jefferson’s bill would end that practice and allow lands to be inherited by all heirs, not just one. This action would “make an opening for the aristocracy of virtue and talent.”

This contrast between aristocracies was a lifelong theme for Jefferson. It was not the wealthy and well-born who were to be favored but rather those in whom nature had broadly distributed talent and integrity. Those qualities were “essential to a well ordered republic.”

No revolution was needed for this revolutionary change. No one’s natural rights would be limited. Rather, those natural rights for all would be enlarged by the abolition of unnatural rights for a few.

Jefferson’s bill was adopted by the Virginia legislature.

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New Mexico Federal Reserve Board
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Would you exchange a high position for a low one?

… I had been elected a member [of the VA House of Burgesses] by my county. I knew that our [state’s] legislation under the regal government had many very vicious points which urgently required reformation, and I thought I could be of more use in forwarding that work. I therefore retired from my seat in Congress on the 2d. of Sep. resigned it, and took my place in the legislature of my state, on the 7th. of October.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders should lead where they’re most useful, regardless of status.
Virginia renewed Jefferson’s status as a delegate to the Continental Congress a month after its adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson’s home county of Albemarle also elected him to his previous position as a member of the new state legislature, formerly the House of Burgesses.

Virginia’s laws were those of a English colony, reflecting the mother country’s values. Jefferson saw “many very vicious points” in those laws which needed revision. He thought he could be of more value there than continuing in the Congress. He resigned his position in the national legislature to take his place in the state one.

This move would also allow him to be much closer to home, where he could attend to his wife’s frail health and their two very young daughters.

As the war for independence continued, he devoted considerable time over the next three years to re-writing Virginia’s statutes. One of the three life accomplishments that adorn his tombstone came from this work.

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